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TNTP Re-imagine Teaching

Michael Towne

10th-12th Grade Physics and Engineering, Citrus Hill High School Perris, CA

For Michael Towne, who served in the U.S. Marine Corps and worked as a small business owner selling shoes before becoming a teacher in 2001, bringing physics to Citrus Hill High School has always been about more than the content. “My vision was physics as an agent for social change,” he says.

When Mike first arrived at Citrus Hill, a 1,700-student school about an hour east of Los Angeles, only 41 students were enrolled in Physics and none in Engineering. He responded by developing a new physics and engineering program from scratch, increasing enrollment to over 350 students in eight years while maintaining the highest standardized test scores for any subject in the district. Last year, an astonishing 26% of the Mexican-American students who passed the AP Physics Electricity & Magnetism exam in the entire state of California came from his classroom.

After 12 years teaching, Mike has learned his class inside and out. As an example, he shares, “The average student in my class has 25 to 45 verbal interactions per period. That’s once every two minutes.” He says this is important to know, because the number of interactions helps him distinguish the extent of intellectual dialogue students are having in his class. It’s also clear how much Mike cares about his students’ development. He brings back former students, many of whom are now in University of California programs, to tutor his current students after school.

Mike has been asked to address both houses of the United States Congress on behalf of the College Board, and in 2013, he also spoke before Congress advocating for increased access to AP Physics. Currently, he is pursuing a Ph.D. in Education, Society and Culture from the University of California, Riverside, specifically focusing on access and equity for ethnic minority students in science. Even with these accomplishments, Mike jokes that he’s only the second best teacher in his family. He credits his wife, a teacher for more than 20 years, with motivating his own move into teaching.

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